While much public comment on the Government's Human Tissue and Embryos Bill (HTEB), published yesterday by Health Minister Dawn Primarolo, has focused on the likely attempts to use the legislation to amend abortion laws, the role of fathers is also undervalued by the proposed law according to David Burrowes MP, a member of the joint committee responsible for scrutinising the bill. In this month's issue of The Difference, David writes:
Of equal concern is the clause within the bill that makes provision for deliberately bringing children into the world who will be prevented, by law, from having any legal father. The bill’s fathers’ provisions prioritise the interests of adults over children whose parenting needs are best met by the presence of a mother and a father.The evidence increasingly shows that children born to married parents tend to be physically and mentally healthier than other children, less accident-prone, and less likely to self-harm. They perform better in school, become sexually active at a later age, are less likely to have behavioural problems, suffer depression, or turn to drugs, smoking or heavy drinking, or to become involved in criminal activities. Furthermore, children from cohabiting households are 33 times more likely to suffer serious abuse than where the child lives with married parents and children under two have a 100 times greater risk of being killed by step-parents than by genetic parents.
The HTEB proposes to omit the requirement for a father in the granting of an IVF licence. While it is already lawful for single women or women in a same-sex relationship to receive IVF, they currently have to show that there will be some male father figure involved in the child’s life. The HTEB removes this requirement. The symbolic impact of removing the need for a father at a time of growing evidence of the detrimental impact of fatherlessness is extremely significant. It would in effect be state-sanctioned fatherlessness.
The draft bill then goes further in respect of removing the legal need for a father. Where a woman gives birth as a result of IVF and is in a relationship with another woman, that woman is to be legally treated as the “parent” of the child – unless they did not give their permission for insemination – without the need for adoption. Where there are two female “parents”, according to the draft bill, no man is to be treated as the father of the child. At the present time, the non-childbearing parent can adopt the child and become its legal parent, but there is still scope for the child’s father to be present on the birth certificate. The HTEB allows for changes to be made to the Births and Deaths Act 1953 which would see the second female parent, while not referred to as “father”, to be registered as a parent at the registration of the child’s birth and to be included on the birth certificate. This will always be to the exclusion of having a legal father.
If politicians are serious about mending our broken society, they are therefore going to have to start with the basic building block of the family and the emotional need of every child to be loved and disciplined by a mother and a father.